Monday, December 21, 2020

California's First Telephone: A Solano County Connection?

For decades inventors tinkered and experimented in an attempt to devise a successful telephone. Ultimately, in the 1870s, two men, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, independently came up with workable models. Today, Bell is widely recognized as the inventor of the telephone, having received his first patent in 1876. Bell publicly demon- strated his device in June, 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. News of the new invention spread across the country and experiments with the emerging technology became popular. 

In June, 1916, E.E. Leake, editor of the Woodland Democrat, recalled an early telephone experiment in California. Writing in the Vallejo Daily Times, Leake claimed to have made the first successful telephone call in California. In the 1870s Leake had been a railroad agent and telegraph operator in Dixon. His brother performed the same job in Suisun. Here is how Leake recalled the experiment:

"So far as I have been able to discover, my brother and I were the first to experiment with the phone in California. This was about the close of 1876, or the beginning of 1877. He was telegraph operator at Suisun and I was railroad agent and operator in Dixon. We sent east for telephones and obtained permission to use the railroad [telegraph] wires after 8 o'clock at night."

"Our first experiments were unsuccessful. By reconnecting the telegraph wires we could consult each other as to the possible cause of our failure and suggest new methods of forming the proper connection."

"The second night we established the proper circuit, and I never was more excited in my life than when I heard my brother's voice. He was twenty miles away but it sounded as if he were just outside the building. That was the beginning in California."

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Election Hijinx in Vallejo, 1869

Voter suppression? Stuffing the ballot box? Election fraud? Nothing new in America, or in Vallejo. Here's how the Vallejo Evening Chronicle described it on October 20, 1869: 

"The Judicial election to-day is passing off very quietly, very little general interest being manifested, and the poll will be light. Some difficulty was experienced this morning in getting the polls opened, as it was not understood that the law required them to be held at the place announced in the election proclamation. However, E.T. Starr, at some trouble to his business, gave the Election Board the use of a part of his store, and the trouble was then surmounted. An eager 'constituent' caused some consternation after voting had commenced, by rushing up and shoving his ballot into the box, without awaiting the usual formalities. On searching, his name was not found on the poll list, but his vote was in the box, and beyond recall, which results in the 'Jimocracy' being ahead beyond a possibility of redemption one vote certain. Kidder, announced for Justice of the Peace for Vallejo Township, has withdrawn, leaving the field occupied by but two candidates - both Republican. The number of names enrolled on the poll list is 1,494, But the vote will not probably be over half of this number."

A little clarification came the next day:

"We alluded yesterday to the incident of a man shoving his vote into the ballot box without the intervention of the Board of Election. He was not enrolled, and a vote was thrown out by agreement among the members of the Board. It appears that the irrepressible voter was not a Democrat, but a Republican, who was voting for the first time, and was entirely ignorant that there were certain formalities to be gone through to legalize his vote."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence


Celebrate the centennial of women's suffrage in the U.S. with "Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence!" The story of women's suffrage is a story of voting rights, of inclusion in and exclusion from the franchise, and of our civic development as a nation. "Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence," a poster exhibit from the Smithsonian, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment and explores the complexity of the women's suffrage movement and the relevance of this history to Americans' lives today. "Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence" is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery. The project received support from the Smithsonian American History Initiative.

Friday, August 7, 2020

"I Christen Thee...." The History and Traditions of Ship Launching

Currently on exhibit in the Saginaw Gallery

A ship launching ceremony is a naval tradition dating back thousands of years. It is both a public celebration and a solemn blessing. Many ancient seafaring societies had rituals for launching a new ship. The Greeks poured water on the new vessel to bless it. The Babylonians sacrificed oxen and the Vikings offered up human blood. In the Middle Ages, monks would board ships before their maiden voyage to pray, lay their hands on the masts and sprinkle holy water on the deck and bow. 

After the Reformation in Europe a secular ceremony of drinking wine from a goblet, usually made of precious metal, and solemnly calling the ship by her name became the norm. The presiding official would then pour what was left on the deck and bow and then toss the cup over the side of the vessel.

 Ship christening in the United States borrowed from the English tradition. The launch of USS Constitution in 1797 included the captain breaking a bottle of Madeira wine on its bow. Other spirits also have been used, the USS Princeton, Raritan and Shamrock were all launched with whiskey. 

One of the first known instances of champagne being used to christen a ship was in 1890 with the launching of the USS Maine. In 1891 when Queen Victoria launched HMS Royal Arthur she also smashed a bottle of champagne against its bow and a long standing tradition was born. 

The battleship  California  launched from Mare Island appropriately received her name with a bottle of California wine in 1919. However, during Prohibition, water was often used to launch a ship – usually water from the sea the vessel was to be launched into. After the passage of the 21st amendment and repeal of Prohibition, champagne once again became the beverage of choice to toast a new vessel. 

USS Trepang Christening Bottle. The silver case that holds the traditional champagne bottle is perforated with small stars, allowing the champagne to spray out while keeping the broken glass inside.

Wet or Dry? Launching a Ship during Prohibition

In September 1920 Mare Island laid the keel of its second battleship, to be named USS Montana. At that time, Prohibition had become the law of the land. But how to launch a ship without a bottle of champagne? Some shipyards adopted the practice of smashing a bottle of water across the bow. “Not so fast!” declared the Governor of Montana. Any ship named for his state would be christened in the traditional way. To guarantee that would happen, the Governor sent a bottle of champagne to Mare Island from his private cellar.

Meanwhile, disarmament treaties following WWI brought a halt to construction of USS Montana. The partially-built ship was scrapped but the unused christening bottle remains intact a century later.

  Unused christening bottle from USS Montana

Christening Bottle from USS Colhoun and Pin from the Society of Sponsors

This christening bottle was a “back-up’ provided to the ship’s sponsor in case anything happened to the main christening bottle. The pin was given to all ship’s sponsors. USS Colhoun was launched in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1918 and was named for Commodore Edmund Ross Colhoun, shipyard commander at Mare Island from 1877 to 1881. 

Christening of the USS Mariano G. Vallejo in 1965. The sponsor was Patricia Vallejo McGettigan, General Vallejo's great-great granddaughter

Saturday, July 14, 2018

FDR Visits Mare Island, 1938

   Eighty years ago today, on July 14, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Vallejo and Mare Island. It was Roosevelt's first visit as President, though he had visited in 1914 and 1920, when he was still Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt's visit was part of a two-week whirlwind tour of West Coast military installations.
Roosevelt's motorcade crosses the causeway to Mare Island
   Roosevelt arrived by train in Crockett and traveled by car through Vallejo, where the streets were lined with thousands of well-wishers. During his visit to Mare Island, the President was accompanied by Congressman Frank Buck of Vacaville, California Governor Frank Merriam, and Senator William Gibbs McAdoo. Interestingly, the Vallejo Times Herald made scant mention of Governor Merriam, who was a Republican. The newspaper, and most of Vallejo, were staunchly Democratic at that time.
    Congressman Buck relayed Roosevelt's impressions of his visit in an interview with the Times Herald: "The President was visibly impressed with the reception given him at Vallejo and Mare Island and expressed keen pleasure and amazement at the growth of the yard that he has not visited since 1920" Congressman Buck said.
Roosevelt's car stopped at Alden Park on Mare Island. Congressman Frank Buck is seated to Roosevelt's left. Governor Frank Merriam and Senator William Gibbs McAdoo are in the seat behind Roosevelt.
    "He rated the causeway as a big improvement, remarking on the difference over the old wooden piling."
   "During the drive through the yard to the Administration Building President Roosevelt said that he recognized faces of several men hw had known as leadingmen and masters on former visits to Mare Island."
   "When we entered Vallejo the President was impressed with the growth of the city and wanted to know if 'this is really the city limits of Vallejo.' When I informed him that it was he pointed out that it has grown considerably since he last visited here."
   "The President told me," Buck said, "that he deeply appreciates the reception by Vallejoans and was glad that he had followed the suggestion for a visit to Mare Island and Vallejo."
    "Times-Herald publisher (and future state senator) Luther Gibson also accompanied the presidential party. "Yesterday I enjoyed the greatest experience of my entire lifetime," Gibson said. "It was one I will always remember; one I never dreamed would be mine. To be part of the caravan that escorted the President of the United States through Vallejo and Mare Island and on to Treasure Island and San Francisco - all this I never believed would happen to me."
   "Vallejo did great credit to herself," Gibson continued. "The great masses of our people lining our streets, cheering and waving American flags, surely convinced our President that we are solidly behind him in his efforts to make our country a better place to live in."
   "It was a great thrill to be in his caravan, with Congressman Buck and the other Vallejo representatives. To actually ride for many miles with the President, see the many crowded streets and cheering throngs, was an inspiring experience."
   Roosevelt would make one more visit to Mare Island in 1942.
FDR shares a smile with shipyard commander  RADM David Worth Bagley and an unidentified woman.